Writer Robyn Wilder has a two-year-old son, Herbie, but her mother has never met him. Here, she tells her heartbreaking story of the moment her mum stopped talking to her
Back in early 2015, I had been a mother for three wonderful, terrifying months. Dazed and puffy-eyed, with the sleep-deprived shock of new motherhood, I became a fixture at our local cafe. There, I could enjoy a rare hot coffee while my son napped, surrounded by other new mothers. Until I noticed something. These other mothers often brought with them their own mothers. And sometimes their mothers. They’d huddle together, chatting about dinner plans and burping techniques, while dandling the babies on their knees. I stopped going to the cafe. I felt self-conscious about the empty seats at my table and a deep jealousy replacing the kinship I’d felt, because I didn’t have a mother to offer me advice, play with my baby or even to be an unwelcome nag.
To be clear, I do have a mother. She lives roughly 100 miles from me, but to date she hasn’t acknowledged my son’s existence or met my husband. For reasons I may never fathom, my mum wants nothing to do with me.
We were close once in a very ordinary sense. Every fortnight, I’d go home for Sunday lunch and we’d get tipsy on red wine and watch a substandard romcom together. Then, three years ago, my mother was hospitalised – weak, confused and very unwell – with severe hypertension. She stayed there for a month, but the doctors were confident she would make a full recovery. However, within weeks, my mother changed.
Suddenly, she was worryingly inaccurate about details of our friends and family. I cannot tell you the awful things she said about the people I love. This wasn’t the gentle confusion her own mother had displayed in her eighties when dementia set in; this was hard and bitter.
And then, upon learning that I was pregnant, she cut all contact with me. My mother’s absence loomed large during my pregnancy. I was hospitalised with severe morning sickness and longed for her, both to tell me about her pregnancies and also just to hold my hand and mop my brow as she did when I was a child. But she ignored my emails and calls.
Then, when in-utero tests suggested my son might be born with a condition that could kill him during infancy, I was sure my mother would step up, knowing I was hurting and that her grandchild’s life was at risk. The doctor asked about family history, and Mum was the only one who could provide it, since my father died when I was young, but my pleas were met with silence.
My son, thankfully, is fine. He’s a funny, happy, healthy little boy who, ironically, looks a lot like my mother. I send her framed photos, but she never responds. I have shed so many tears that it’s breaking my heart less and less, because as much as my mother’s behaviour hurts, I’m realising that it can’t come from a sane, right-thinking place. The mum I know is warm and loving. She always had narcissistic tendencies, and I believe that something has now broken in her and let these traits rule. Despite endless conversations with her local health teams, she has refused all help, so all we can do is watch.
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In the meantime, I have built myself a makeshift family out of my in-laws, close friends and a fierce girl gang of internet mums who support me through 3am feeds and bleary, 6am rants. I haven’t lost my mum, not really, because with each parenting decision I make, I feel her at my shoulder, guiding me. Sometimes we agree on stuff, such as learning words by sounding out the syllables, and sometimes we don’t – for instance, I won’t ship my son off to boarding school the moment he hits seven, like I was.
I keep an eye on my mother, but the last time I went home to visit, she hid while I knocked desperately on the window. It was my brother-in-law who drove me to her house; it was my husband and best friend who I cried to about it. And it was my son who slobbered kisses all over my face to cheer me up. Your family is what you make it.